As in Justin Gary's analog original, between two to four players face off, using magical runes and attack power from the cards they collect to capture or kill more powerful cards. Honor is awarded both for kills and captured cards, so players can strategically decide exactly how violent they want to be.
As with most games, playing it is really the only effective explanation of the rules, but that balance between control and violence is at the core of what makes Ascension so effective. You can play an aggressive game that nets you a ton of kills quickly or focus on collecting cards that provide a lot of runes, letting you quietly build an army. Points for collected cards aren't tallied until the end of the game, so a player the latter strategy may appear to be beaten until the game's end.
As a result, you've got to pay very close attention to know exactly what strategy your opponent is opting for. Rune-heavy players facing off against the combat-centric can use their magic to eliminate high-value targets, but only if they recognize the strategy when they see it at work. Plus, since decks are built each game, there's no reason you can't switch your play style with each go-round.
You may not need to be so savvy to beat the entry-level AI, but moving up in difficulty or taking on up to three other online players in an asynchronous match requires keen observation, flexibility and more than a little cunning.
At $5, Ascension is a bit pricey for the App Store. But when you compare that to $30 for the physical game plus the emotional toll of having another human being hear you say "I'm drawing an extra card because I've implemented the Burrower Mark II Mechana construct," it's practically free.
Ascension is available from the iOS App Store for $4.99. We're always looking for new distractions. Want to submit your game for Portabliss consideration? You can reach us at portabliss aat joystiq dawt com.